The Sounders Academy U-17 and U-15 teams returned to Seattle last week after a successful first round of qualifying for Generation adidas Cup in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Both teams side played three matches in the span of four days, as the U-17s finished the weekend comfortably atop the Western Region qualifying group on eight points and the U-15s sitting four points back of LAFC in first place.
“We’re pretty satisfied with the first round,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “The U-17s obviously did very well at the event, especially with the four boys missing through international duty, so they were able to play some players up from the U-15s who really contributed to the success, and they’ve positioned themselves in a good place for round two. The U-15s’ performance levels were very good, and on another day, they also would’ve received eight points. We were really pleased with the way the boys played, and it was a really positive weekend for both teams and all the players.”
In accordance with the club’s ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ philosophy, both the U-17s and U-15s formulated rosters that featured several young Sounders playing up at least one age group. Three standouts from the U-15s joined the older squad for the weekend, while the U-15s brought along four 2005s for the event.
Several of the young players who played up with the U-15s performed admirably, with Antonio Herrera (2005) and Josh Hardin (2005) impressing as attacking midfielders. Both goalkeepers contributed solid showings, demonstrating quality depth at such a critical position, while Oscar Rincon, Cody Baker and Krubelle Tesfaye all providing consistently quality displays throughout the weekend.
In the U-17s’ 1-0 win against Real Salt Lake, the starting XI was comprised almost entirely of players playing up at least one age group, with four 2003s, three 2004s and one 2005 earning starts.
“We were very pleased with the performances and results,” said U-17 Head Coach Chris Little. “For such a young team to come out of that unbeaten with two clean sheets was really pleasing.”
The club’s youth programming played a critical role in preparing these young prospects for being taken out of their comfort zone and facing off against elite youth competition, as many of the young Sounders on the U-15s had already competed in the Manchester City Cup, Youdan Trophy and ICC Future’s Tournament, where they faced off against storied international clubs like Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC.
“They approached GA Cup with a professional mindset because they’ve already done Man City Cup, ICC Futures and the Youdan Trophy,” said U-15 Head Coach Dan Lock. “The youth programming definitely helps because they went into it and it wasn’t a shock to the system.”
Three years ago, S2 midfielder Azriel Gonzalez became the first Sounders Academy prospect to play above his age group at GA Cup. In the intervening years, top prospects like Josh Atencio, Ray Serrano, Danny Robles and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez were all given opportunities to stake their claims with the older squad through inclusion in the early round of qualifying for GA Cup. With their development accelerated by this exposure, it has become a cornerstone of the Academy’s philosophy.
Center back Angel Martinez, a 2005, played up with the U-17s at GA Cup | Quinn Width
"We had four younger players playing up with us all weekend, and three from my group – Taka [Sasaki], Austin [Brummett] and Angel [Martinez] – played up, so we didn’t have them," said Lock. "So, to perform to the levels that we did, with such a young group, was a good sign for our Academy."
Though the U-15s were a bit unlucky in their final match against Vancouver – they struggled in the first half before dominating the second half, hitting the woodwork on five occasions – the weekend was a successful litmus test for the team sticking to its identity against elite competition. Facing off against the future stars of MLS, the young Sounders maintained their attacking ethos, combined with a very effective pressing scheme.
Both sides will now return to regular USSDA competition, with the next round of qualifying for GA Cup occurring in February 2019.
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